‘Candy’ Episode 3: The Denial Twist (Review)

After two episodes, it was clear that Candy, despite meticulous world-building and otherwise strong character development, had a potentially major problem on its hands, and that the problem’s name was Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey). We’d seen the murder victim at the heart of Hulu’s limited series in an unflattering light almost exclusively – and this was hardly the fault of Lynskey’s acting, which, to the surprise of precisely zero people, has been terrific. It’s not an actor’s fault when the list of reasons to feel sympathetic, feel connected to, feel something other than a reluctant dislike for her character contains the item “She’s a murder victim” and then nothing after that. (One still-unmentioned reason for Betty’s mood: she had postpartum depression, something Melanie Lynskey has mentioned in interviews for Candy but that hasn’t come up in the show itself.)

So the stakes were kind of high for Candy episode 3. If “Overkill” couldn’t give us more reasons to care about Betty, the entire show ran the very high risk of turning itself into a one-sided Candy Montgomery Variety Hour. Fortunately, this episode does come through for Betty, delivering new insights into her character, some spectacular exchanges between Betty and Candy (Jessica Biel), and even a bit of unexpected comedy and cattiness. Unfortunately, despite a handful of terrific individual scenes, “Overkill” as a whole is a bit convoluted by the mental gymnastics its three main characters do to convince themselves that what they’re doing is right.

To begin with, “Overkill” is also the Pregnancy Episode. Candy episode 2 takes place mainly in the past, so you can almost forget that Betty has an infant when she’s murdered offscreen in episode one. The pregnancy isn’t immediately joyous for Betty, though. She calls her husband Allan (Pablo Schreiber) at work to tell him – one of Candy’s many recurring details is Allan discouraging Betty from calling him at work because his supervisor disapproves of the interruptions – and her first reaction is to sob and fret about how she still hasn’t lost all the baby weight from her last pregnancy. Which is really Betty’s guarded way of saying she’s afraid the pregnancy will push Allan even farther away than she already feels he is. (And, to be fair to Betty, her feeling on this point is correct.) A major theme of Candy episode 3 is sex as a communicative act: behind all of Candy’s salacious gossip with her friends and Allan’s desperate grip on Candy’s body as she prepares to leave and Betty’s multi-faceted worry is these characters’ realization, after years of developing their own domestic dialect, that it is indeed possible to lose your sexual fluency.

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Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel) watches Allan Gore (Pablo Schreiber) prove it’s hard to break a habit. (COURTESY: Hulu)

Speaking of sexual fluency, did I call this the Pregnancy Episode? Because it’s also the Cheating Episode. After a somewhat stilted beginning, Candy and Allan begin their affair, each of them looking to the other for what they think they can’t get at home. Candy’s best friend Sherry (Jessie Mueller, who deserves Candy‘s Sixth Man of the Year award) points out the inherent absurdity of this scenario: after Candy confesses her crime of the heart, Sherry responds, “Allan Gore? Isn’t that a lateral move?” But the strangeness of Candy’s selection might be part of the appeal, since who clearly revels in getting to share the kind of gossip she was reduced to begging for when Pastor Jackie started seeing someone new.

The three of them – Candy, Allan, and Betty – all know that something is being kept from them in the mind of the person they want to be with. It leads them to confide in and make themselves vulnerable to that person in unexpected ways and makes for plenty of pivoting away from the truths everyone wants to keep concealed. In revealing to Candy that she’s expecting, Betty finally voices what her every action has already made clear: “Pregnancy is magical and everything, but…last time…I just felt really alone.” Candy, shocked by the news so soon after starting her affair, insists on holding a baby shower (!) for the wife of the person with whom she’s having that affair (!!). She also tries to break things off with Allan by telling him she’s in love with him; any such feelings would be a violation of the terms to which they agreed in the first place. (It’s also not like Allan, who’s used the affair as a literal meal ticket and inadvertent therapy session, made Candy’s decision too difficult.)

But then Allan shocks Candy by protesting, with real passion, telling her he’s not gotten enough of her body and showing her exactly what he means. And, of course, that means Candy is likewise energized for the first time since the affair began. So Candy twists away from a clean break and instead starts fueling her own paranoia, insisting that Allan has confessed to Betty, and so Betty’s comments about what a good, unexpected, loving friend Candy is are actually barbs designed to torment her.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated. Betty senses that Allan is no longer pleased by her, and insists that she and her husband start going to meetings of something called Marriage Encounter, which is basically couples therapy run by their church. The couples are encouraged, even required, to confess all their secrets and insecurities to one another. Before Allan can confess his infidelity, it’s Betty who reveals hers: she had a one-night stand very early on in their relationship. Allan never confesses his own sin back to his wife; instead, he begins the offscreen work of repairing his marriage, and we in the audience are free to assume that Allan can do so with a clear mind and a light heart by rationalizing that Betty’s confession makes them equally guilty while also freeing him from needing to confess. At least while she’s pregnant. So the affair ends. But Candy’s problems do not.

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Candy (Jessica Biel) venting her frustration in a slightly less unhealthy way. (COURTESY: Hulu)

Finally, we need to pour one out for poor Pat Montgomery (Timothy Simons). He was as present as he needed to be in episode one, which arranged Candy‘s premise, setting, and general relationships. In episode two, he was a bit of a cringe-worthy doofus, partly for comic effect and partly to encourage Candy’s eventual affair. After Candy episode three, though, the poor guy’s getting left behind. True, it’s a very fine line between narrative invention and fidelity to the truth, especially for a true-crime series. But of the four leads, Candy and Betty are getting the bulk of the story and screen time, and Allan is more than holding his own just behind the two of them.

By contrast, Pat’s written more like the female spouse in any given male-driven drama contemporary to this period. He doesn’t get much to say; when he does talk, it’s often to announce he’s “gonna get a jog in,” in a decreasingly funny and increasingly sad echo of George Clooney’s also-doofus-tastic character in Burn After Reading. The look of silent contempt Allan gives Pat during the baby shower says it all: is this dude really as oblivious to the world as he seems to be? “You’re overworkin’ your meat,” Allan tells him – and we can’t help but snicker at how Pat’s ignorance means Allan might just as well be talking about himself.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Errata
–First of all, can we take just a moment to appreciate the pro/con list Candy came up with to convince Allan to have an affair?

Allan Gore (Pablo Schreiber) is trying very hard not to look up. (COURTESY: Hulu)

I mean. The smiley face next to “adventure”? The nebulous “could learn something”? The mere existence of “could be good for spouses!?”? Comedy is a red flag.

–Among the pantheon of Great Unexpected Lines, “I think he might have the most beautiful penis I’ve ever seen” can now be found.

–Would it have killed them to throw a little period-appropriate Motorhead on the soundtrack in a nod to this episode’s title?

–When Candy told Sherry not to tell anyone she was sleeping with Allan or she (Candy) would say that Sherry had slept with Pat – that wasn’t based in reality, right? That was just a threat to keep Sherry from gossiping?

–Seriously, though, can we start seeing Jessie Mueller in a lot more things? Preferably starring in those things?

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